Cher Triumphs in Royalty Dispute with Sonny Bono’s Widow

Cher asserts rightful claim to legacy music royalties.

by Nouman Rasool
Cher Triumphs in Royalty Dispute with Sonny Bono’s Widow
© Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Pop icon Cher has won what is described as an epoch-making, decades-long court battle over royalties that pits her claims in court against those of former foe Sonny Bono's widow, Mary Bono. The ruling establishes Cher's right to receive continuous royalties from classics like "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On," songs she performed as part of the legendary pop duo of Sonny & Cher.

The Grammy winner had filed a preemptive lawsuit earlier this year, complaining that Mary Bono was improperly holding back money that was supposed to be split 50-50, as agreed to in terms set after her and Sonny's 1975 divorce.

The dispute was over an agreement that after the couple's splitting, the former partners should split the royalties from their musical collaborations in the period in which they spent time between 1967 and 1975.

Posthumous Rights Clash

Cher identified a key piece as the fact that this 50-50 division agreement would be ongoing posthumously.

Sonny died in 1998 in a skiing accident. Mary Bono, however, countered this claim by referencing The Copyright Act, which potentially allows songwriters and their heirs to regain control of their intellectual property, previously assigned to third parties.

The case reached a critical conclusion this Wednesday when Judge John A. Kronstadt ruled in Cher's favor, affirming her right to the contested royalty payments. According to court documents, the dispute has led to over $400,000 in withheld payments to Cher, underlining the significant financial stakes involved.

The decision is seen as a significant affirmation of artists' rights to their creative outputs and their enduring stake in their work, even posthumously. Legal experts suggest this ruling could set a precedent for similar cases in the entertainment industry, where contractual agreements and copyright laws frequently intersect.

NBC News sought responses from the legal teams of both parties. To date, neither Cher nor Mary Bono has publicly commented on the ruling. What is most highlighted is the already complicated circumstance of copyright law and, at the same time, another significance: the contribution of Sonny and Cher to songwriting durability. Their songs are still being revisited and remain evergreen, providing revenue even years after being produced.